Benefits of Cranberry Juice
Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon) are small, acidic berries with peak growing seasons ranging from October to December in the northern United States and Canada. Although cranberries are small, they pack a huge nutritional punch! The same is true for cranberry juice – 1 cup contains only 45 calories, yet boasts approximately 39 percent of the daily value of vitamin C for the average adult, 195 mg potassium, and high levels of powerful antioxidants.
Antioxidants in cranberries
Cranberries contain the second-most antioxidants of any fruit or vegetable, second only to blueberries. Most of the antioxidants present are a type known as polyphenols, and the most common polyphenols in cranberries are anthocyanins. Cranberry juice is considered a functional food, as just 1 cup (240 mL) of 100% cranberry juice contains 540 mg of polyphenols.
Several different types of polyphenol antioxidants present in cranberries work synergistically to reduce the efforts of oxidative stress, which can play a role in the development of chronic diseases and premature aging. These antioxidants include:
- Anthocyanins: These compounds are typically found in dark red, blue, and purple berries, with antioxidant concentration increasing as berries ripen. Most anthocyanins in cranberry juice are known as cyanidins or peonidins.
- Flavonols: These antioxidants are also found in berries, with the highest concentration in fruit skins.
- Phenolic acid derivatives: These substances (including hydroxycinnamic acid and hydroxybenzoic acid) are responsible for the distinct flavor of berries.
- Tannins: These are a type of antioxidant often associated with wine, due to their presence in grape skins. Two types of tannins found in cranberry juice are proanthocyanidins and ellagitannins. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the dark red color of cranberries and other reddish-brown fruits when they become ripe.
Vitamin C in cranberry juice
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is essential for maintaining proper health. Vitamin C contributes to many vital functions including tissue and organ maintenance, immune health, cardiovascular disease prevention, and eye health. Vitamin C also possesses anti-inflammatory properties, and may play a role in protecting the lining of the lungs from bacterial and viral infections.
Cranberry Juice & Urinary Health
One of the most well-known uses for cranberry juice is to prevent and ease symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTI’s). The high acidity of cranberry juice is believed to affect the urinary tract, making its environment more acidic and less friendly for E. coli bacteria that commonly cause UTI’s. Daily consumption of cranberry juice may be recommended to pregnant women and post-surgical hospital patients with Foley catheters for prevention of UTI’s. Cranberry juice can also be helpful for prevention and symptom relief related to prostate infections. Although cranberry juice may help to relieve symptoms, it cannot “cure” an existing infection.
Cranberry Juice & Heart Health
The link between cranberry juice and heart health is related to the anti-inflammatory properties naturally found in cranberries. By preventing or lessening inflammation in blood vessels, cranberry juice may reduce the risk of developing atherosclerosis (a heart disease caused by the buildup of fat and cholesterol in blood vessels). If untreated, atherosclerosis can progress to partial or full obstruction of blood flow in the body, and may cause cardiac emergencies such as heart attacks or stroke.
Cranberry Juice & Cancer Prevention
The antioxidant properties of cranberry juice have been linked to prevention of certain types of cancer, due to their actions against free radicals in the body. PA’s in particular are anti-carcinogenic, meaning that they can prevent the growth of cancer cells. Studies have concluded that cranberry juice may be useful in prevention or management of tumors in the breasts and lungs, but effects are more prominent against colon and prostate cancer. Cranberry juice may also be used as a complementary treatment to chemotherapy and radiation therapy for existing cancers.
Cranberry Juice & Gastrointestinal Health
Cranberry juice also has the ability to improve gastrointestinal (digestive) health. Similar to the mechanism by which cranberry juice inhibits e. coli infections in the urinary tract, the acidic nature of the juice helps to prevent Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria from attaching to the stomach lining. As H. pylori is responsible for the development of stomach ulcers, cranberry juice may also be able to prevent these painful ulcers. One Chinese study found that patients who consumed cranberry juice on a regular basis had 50% fewer bacterial stomach infections than those who did not drink cranberry juice.
Cranberry Juice & Dental Health
Cranberry juice can also help to prevent dental caries (cavities) and periodontal diseases such as gingivitis. Proanthocyanidins in particular have a twofold role in this process – not only do they prevent bacteria from sticking to the surfaces of teeth, they also decrease the production of acid in the mouth (which prompts less dental plaque formation). Cranberry juice also contains calcium, which helps to strengthen the teeth and maintain a healthy smile.
However, it should be noted that choosing the proper type of cranberry juice is key in obtaining dental health benefits. Cranberry juice “cocktails” and combinations with other types of juice tend to be high in added sugars and/or artificial sweeteners, which can be damaging to teeth. For the best results, select 100% cranberry juice – or cold-press it yourself.
A Word of Caution on cranberry juice
Although cranberry juice is a superfood capable of preventing or easing a variety of illnesses, it should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthful, balanced diet. Cranberry juice does contain sugar and calories, both which may be a focus if you are attempting to lose weight. Diabetics should be aware of the carbohydrate content of cranberry juice and adjust dietary intake and/or medications as appropriate. Cranberry juice may also increase the risk of developing kidney stones in those who are susceptible and prompt excessive bleeding in individuals on blood thinners or aspirin. If you have any significant health concerns, discuss your plan to increase cranberry juice consumption with your health care provider prior to doing so.
The Bottom Line on Cranberry Juice
Cranberry juice is an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, and countless other integral nutrients. Drinking 100% cold-pressed cranberry juice on a regular basis can provide a variety of health benefits and promote optimal health at a very reasonable cost. Finally (and perhaps most importantly), cranberry juice is delicious!
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